Sunday, March 17, 2013

Dispatches From The Sub Files Vol. 1

I wore the hat (or should I say sweats) of a middle years Phys Ed. teacher for a few days last week.  There are parts of Phys Ed. that have me feeling and likely looking very out of my element.  I'm not sporty.  I never have been.  But for the days I'm wearing my yoga pants, hoody, runners, whistle and getting paid for it, I can at least pretend the "shoe" fits.  I whoop and yell and cheer and throw open the mesh bag of dodge balls like I was born for it.  It's kind of like being an actor.  You have to commit to the role before the curtain opens and the students walk into the gym.  They don't know there isn't a sporty bone in my body and I don't have to let on.  I always assume they'll find out soon enough.

Aside from the acting components of the job that don't really fit, there were moments and even longer periods of time when the job gave me life.  You know those moments.  The ones where you feel like you're living in the place where your passion and your gifts intersect perfectly and joy is what you're left with.  I had a few of those kinds of sacred intersections last week.  It's the nature of the job -Phys Ed. teachers are afforded the luxury of being observers.... once the instructions are given and the equipment is handed out, they can watch and observe and study and contemplate.  They can even respond to what they see.  This happened to me during a grade 7 Phys. Ed. class.

All of the students were in the middle of their Badminton unit and were to just play during the hour long class.  My job was to watch and monitor and keep things under control.  After playing some Badminton with a few girls without partners for the first half hour, I noticed two girls I didn't know sitting together on the side bench.  I went and sat down with them and I started to listen and ask a few questions.  At first their answers were one or two words while looking down or at each other.   Once they started to look me in the eye I let my questions become more personal.  Their answers followed suit.  They were vulnerable and honest about the hard things and generous with who they really were.  Soon another girl joined us on the bench and our conversation continued to a place that was obviously so much more important than Badminton was.  I came alive there, on that bench.  I was born for that.  And it gave me hope.

Of course, all of the wonderful moments in the world lose their lustre quickly when grade six boys cannot control their laughter after telling them to "put your balls in the bag" at the end of a rousing game of Dr. Dodgeball.  So I said it again.  With gusto.   Just because I could.

Later in the day I had a different class come in to play some games.  They all seemed to know the games and the routine - except one.   One boy stood out to me right away.  He hung back from the action, pacing a little and looking nervous.   While everyone was in on the game he held back and held the ball in his hands not making a move.  His eyes would dart up and they'd look down again - unsure. I watched carefully, waiting for the right moment to go and talk to him to see if he understood or needed something.  But let's face it.  There's never really the "right" moment for a middle aged woman substitute teacher to come up to an adolescent boy to see if he's doing OK.  That's not what or who they need.  Just as all of these thoughts were swirling in my mind, I got to witness  the most beautiful exchange.   One of the other boys in the class walked up to the lone student and started talking in a peaceful and quiet voice.  He pointed a little, demonstrated and stood beside him.  There was at least a foot height difference between these two with the one who came to help the shorter of the two.  He looked up at his peer while he talked and offered the most mature and generous offering.  The lone and isolated student looked down at him and you could tangibly see peace returning to him.  Soon he threw the ball at the target gingerly, while his classmate stood by offering help and acceptance.

That exchange gave me goosebumps.  The intrinsic sense of responsibility for another that the shorter of the two had.  But he didn't only have it - he acted on it with respect and gentleness, instilling dignity as he went.  That lone and anxious boy didn't need me.  He needed his classmate to come alongside him.

I needed to see it happen.
It was the richest moment of my week.

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